Diocesan elementary schools move to MAIS

By Joanna King and Staff Reports

JACKSON – The seven remaining Catholic elementary schools in the Diocese of Jackson have collectively decided to join diocesan Catholic high schools in the Midsouth Association of Independent Schools (MAIS). This summer, St. Anthony, Madison; St. Elizabeth, Clarksdale; St. Patrick, Meridian; St. Richard, Jackson; Sr. Thea Bowman, Jackson; Sacred Heart, Southaven; and Holy Family, Holly Springs became the newest members of MAIS.

“We are very excited about this move as it broadens our opportunities for student activities and educator professional development and widens the professional network among our nonpublic and independent school counterparts,” said Karla Luke, executive director of Catholic education for the diocese.

With this decision, all diocesan schools and early learning centers in the Diocese of Jackson will remain internationally accredited by Cognia, Inc. Additionally, the Office of Education will withdraw membership from state accreditation obtained through the Mississippi Department of Education (MDE).

“We are proud of our Cognia accreditation as it is based on a strict set of school improvement principles and is aligned with the National Catholic Education Association’s adopted National Standards and Benchmarks for Effective Catholic Elementary and Secondary Schools (NSBECS),” said Luke.

PEARL – Newly hired diocesan coordinator of curriculum, professional development and standards review, Virginia Hollingsworth evaluates Terra Nova testing data with Caitlin Walker, an educator at St. Elizabeth Clarksdale and Anne Cowger, principal of St. Anthony Madison, at a principal and educator’s meeting on Thursday, July 13 at St. Jude parish. (Photo by Rachel Patterson)

The state accreditation obtained through MDE is a regional performance-based accreditation centered on adherence to and compliance with a set of requirements established by the Mississippi State Board of Education. Cognia, through its partnership with MAIS, operates on the principle of continuous school improvement. This difference allows school administrators and their organizational leadership to render important education-related decisions based on the needs of their community. The NSBECS standards, incorporated in the Cognia accreditation process, advocate that a concentrated focus on continuous improvement will increase a school’s effectiveness and viability.

This recent decision results from months of research, consultation with Bishop Joseph Kopacz, pastors, advisory council members, teachers and administrators. “The decision is borne out of a desire to exercise more flexibility in intentionally aligning our Catholic identity and mission with instructional and managerial practices that set our schools apart,” said Luke.

The move to MAIS will increase offerings in professional development for teachers, educational leadership training for administrators, academic competitions for elementary students, and exciting extracurricular activities for both athletic and non-athletic students. Students can participate in activities like art, chess, creative writing, choir, quiz bowl, spelling bees, drone competitions, robotics and eighteen competitive sports programs offered through MAIS.

“I am very excited about the level of support our staff will receive in professional development and the increased opportunities for our students throughout the year. Activities like the Reading Fair and Science Olympiad will allow our students to participate in academic competitions with their peers. MAIS works with its member schools to create educational communities that share ideals, values and priorities with children, teachers, and families,” said Sarah Cauthen, principal of St. Elizabeth School in Clarksdale.

School administrators have attended several district meetings and have been warmly welcomed by the members of MAIS.

“We are excited to welcome the Catholic elementary schools in the Diocese of Jackson as part of this great organization. We look forward to the collaboration with Catholic school leaders and current members of MAIS as we share resources and ideas to build a stronger Mississippi through education,” said executive director, Dr. Shane Blanton at a diocesan principal’s meeting last week.

Chris Payne, principal of Sister Thea Bowman Catholic School, says, he’s excited about joining MAIS because of its dedication to supporting their schools.

“You feel a presence of community and fellowship which has made this transition worthwhile. The teacher and administrative development available to us as members is not only beneficial but cost effective. I’m excited for the collaboration of ideas and resources that we will take full advantage of,” said Payne.

This move is among the many exciting plans diocesan office, administrators, and advisory councils have developed for the 2023-2024 school year. “We look forward to continuing our high expectations for our students in spiritual and intellectual formation through their education in Catholic Schools,” said Luke.

“Please keep our school communities in your prayers for a successful transition and a happy and productive school year.”